Friday, April 2, 2010
Four different Final Four storylines
By Eamonn Brennan
The all-around talent of WVU sophomore Kevin Jones has flown under the radar nationally.
INDIANAPOLIS -- We're less than a day away from the tip of the Final Four, which means the inexorable six-day stretch between NCAA tournament games is nearing its end. You know how it goes: Every April, these six days yield storylines that end up being chewed up and spit out before the teams even have to take the court.
This year, things are even more straightforward than usual. Butler is the "Hoosiers"-esque underdog. Michigan State is another example of Tom Izzo's brilliance. West Virginia's country roads led Bob Huggins home. And Duke, after failing to conquer the Sweet 16 six years in a row, finds itself once again among basketball's elite. These are the stories. They are not up for dispute.
At the risk of being too contrarian, though, it's probably worth throwing a few less-trod things to watch for in Saturday's games, things that have developed over this NCAA tournament that aren't receiving the same level of attention as the aforementioned four. So here are a few others. Four teams. Four storylines. And not the ones you've already heard:
West Virginia: Kevin Jones is awfully good. On Friday, I was asked by one of our chatters in the College Basketball Live chat to give my starting five drawn from players on any of the Final Four teams. My response? Jon Scheyer. Da'Sean Butler. Durrell Summers. Kyle Singler. Gordon Hayward. All worthy candidates, right? Except I happened to leave out one Mr. Kevin Jones, a horrible mistake that was -- of course -- made clear to me by a score of commenters in the Cover It Live window. And why not? Sleeping on Jones in this tournament is a major mistake. Jones is perhaps the Mountaineers' most well-rounded player, a guy who scores, rebounds, has the size to bang inside but can step out and shoot a tidy little 40 percent clip from beyond the arc. Lots of people have talked about Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, and rightfully so, but Jones deserves more love than this. If he's the difference in a physical, hard-fought game against Duke Saturday afternoon, don't be surprised.
Duke: Is Coach K the greatest of all-time? OK, it's too early to say that yet. But if Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils come out of this weekend's Final Four with Coach K's fourth national championship, it's officially time to start the conversation. Seriously. The Duke haters among us won't like this -- and really, who doesn't like to hate on Duke from time to time? -- but it's true. Let's review the numbers. Over the course of 35 seasons: 868 wins. Eleven Final Fours. Twelve ACC titles. The most NCAA tournament wins of all-time (75) and the best winning percentage in the NCAA tournament of any active coach. Coach K will definitely eclipse former mentor Bob Knight's Division I wins record, which currently sits at 902, and is nearly as likely to notch 1,000 wins -- 1,000 wins! -- before his career his over. If Duke wins this Final Four, this discussion merely accelerates, but win or lose, the point remains: The man is a legend. You don't have to like him. But you should respect him.
Morgan produced a double-double in the regional final, including the game-winning free throw.
Michigan State: Raymar's redemption. For as long as Raymar Morgan has been at Michigan State, we've all been waiting for great things. The kid is as naturally talented as they come -- a muscular 6-foot-8 frame, a reliable jump shot, the athleticism to dominate on the interior. Raymar Morgan should have owned college basketball for a year or two and then moved along to much, much greener pastures. But for whatever reason, Morgan has yet to really dominate at this level. He's good, sure; 11 points and six boards a game are nothing to sniff at. But he's not the sort of player, and he never has been, that can utterly take over a basketball game for long stretches of time. College hoops has never bent to his will. It would be fascinating to see Morgan suddenly find himself in these last two games of the season, complimenting a suddenly brilliant Durrell Summers and leading Michigan State to an unlikely NCAA title. Not necessary, of course. But fascinating all the same.
Butler: Will Gordon stay or will he go? This doesn't exactly qualify as a state secret, but it has been partially obscured by Butler's Cinderella run to its hometown Final Four: Gordon Hayward is the most NBA-ready player left in this tournament. At least that's what the NBA scouts think; Hayward is the only player in the Final Four ranked in the first round of Chad Ford's top 100. Hayward could conceivably come back after this year's run and make a go at the NCAA title next season with a fully loaded Butler squad -- none of the Bulldogs' key players this season are seniors. But Hayward also has to weight the financial considerations. Is it worth staying for another season and risking the chance of an NBA lockout in 2011? Or, more conventionally, a bad senior year that pushes his draft stock down into less lofty territory? That decision might have a lot to do with how Butler performs this weekend. Keep an eye out.